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Minnesota Legislature

Closing district would pay its debt

Published (3/6/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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McLeod West Public Schools is facing its imminent demise, but would like to minimize the consequences for neighboring districts that will absorb its 500 students.

A May 2009 election is scheduled to decide if the district is to be consolidated among three neighboring districts — Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, Buffalo Lake-Hector and Glencoe-Silver Lake. The trio has agreed to absorb McLeod West students, but will not accept its estimated $3 million reorganization debt.

A “no” vote would dissolve the district and force McLeod County commissioners to redraw district lines. Under current law, any reorganization debt would be pushed onto the three districts that take McLeod West pupils.

However, HF1040 would allow McLeod West to authorize a general obligation bond issue, without voter approval, to keep reorganization debt responsibility in its original district.

“We would just like to have this legislation in place to have an orderly transition to move this debt through the consolidation process, said Rep. Ron Shimanski (R-Silver Lake), the bill’s sponsor.

Approved March 2 by the House Finance Committee, it was sent to the House Taxes Committee with the intent to reach the floor quickly. Its companion, SF811, sponsored by Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel), was scheduled to be heard March 5 by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

McLeod West was created when Stewart and Brownton schools merged in 1998. It has experienced severe enrollment decline, as well as facility disrepair in the face of voters’ defeat of both building bond and operating referenda.

Acting McLeod West Superintendent Tony Boyer told the House K-12 Education Finance Division Feb. 25 he’d cautioned voters that defeating the November referendum would only result in higher taxes resulting from the reorganization debt.

“I think you’re going to see this happen again and again in rural Minnesota,” he warned. For now, he said, “We are looking out for the best interests of our students and constituents, not just for today but for the future.”

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